Many refugees who fled to the United States are still desperately trying to reunite with their families a year after the Taliban took over Afghanistan and heartbreaking scenes of chaos at Kabul airport.
Amina Ahmadi and her nine relatives were among those in the airport last August attempting to board a flight after receiving Taliban threats. Ahmadi, 27, told TODAY via Dari translator Liaqat Ali Eftekharie that she was in the airport for one day and one night.
The family was then separated by a deadly bomb explosion. Ahmadi stated that she had no idea what happened to her relatives or whether or not they were still alive. Without internet or any other means of communication, Ahmadi boarded a plane to America with her young brother, sister, and nephew, one of whom is only ten years old.
She found out two weeks later that her parents had survived, but they hadn’t made it onto a plane. Ahmadi now attends online classes in the United States while her siblings attend summer school.
Ahmadi stated that her siblings are struggling with being separated from their parents, and that even though they call each other every day, it’s just not the same.
As Ahmadi prepares to begin working, child care will present another challenge. She stated that she is urging the United States to take action.
“I request that the United States government assist in the reunification of parents and their children,” she said. “I request that (my parents) should be helped to get into the U.S. and take care of their kids because I cannot do much more than that.”
Thousands of families are in the same situation. In an email, a US State Department spokesperson told TODAY that the safety of Afghan children is their “utmost concern.”
“We are strongly committed to family reunification for families separated by operations last August and are actively working to develop a system for identifying and bringing immediate family members of those who arrived in the United States through Operation Allies Welcome,” the statement said.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, 81,000 Afghan citizens have moved to the United States so far. However, the odds are stacked against those still attempting to bring family members over, according to Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, CEO and President of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
“We know USCIS has received over 46,000 applications from Afghans living abroad, but as of early June, it had adjudicated fewer than 5,000 applications and denied 93% of them,” Vignarajah told TODAY, citing data first reported by CBS News. “That is an astounding denial rate.” “I believe it contrasts sharply with the rhetoric of solidarity that we hear from US officials.”
TODAY learned that the USCIS, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, has received over 48,000 applications from Afghans: According to a spokesperson for TODAY, 369 were approved (less than 1% of total applications) and approximately 8,000 were denied. The remaining 39,000, according to the department, have not yet been defined.
The Taliban declared victory in Kabul on August 15, 2021, after seizing the capital and seizing power. The Taliban’s moves were made possible by the United States’ withdrawal of troops from the region. The result was a mass evacuation panic, with people storming the airport in an attempt to flee.
Overburdened by the influx of Afghan refugees, resettlement agencies in the Washington, D.C.-Virginia area turned to national organizations for help — and that’s where Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service came in.
For the past 80 years, LIRS has been resettling refugees as a non-profit organization. According to Vignarajah, LIRS established a temporary office in Alexandria, Virginia, last November to help with the influx.
According to Khalis Noori, director of field operations, LIRS has assisted 11,000 Afghan refugees in the last year. According to him, the all-Afghan team of 25 in Alexandria has successfully resettled 1,393 people.
The team is made up of Afghan refugees who arrived in the United States at various times. “They understand the difficulties because they come from the same country,” he explained. “So they can connect better.”
Some refugees’ best chance is to apply for asylum, which previously had a filing limit of one year after arrival in the United States. According to Noori, the deadline was recently extended to two years.